Home > English > Opinion > Decentralization: Prospect and vision for Sustainable Development in (...)

Decentralization: Prospect and vision for Sustainable Development in Afghanistan

Ahmad Rashid Jamal
Saturday 12 May 2012

Reading time: (Number of words: )


Decentralization and sustainable development are essential issues to the post conflict reconstruction and governing processes of Afghanistan and these concepts can not be overemphasized. This article interrogates conceptual clarifications of decentralization and sustainable development, the centralized problem, Why decentralization for Afghanistan?

Conceptual clarifications:


It is process of transferring power from or decision making from the central government to local government structure. A decentralized system encourages fewer tiers in the organizational structure, wider span of control, and a bottom- to -top flow of decision making. In a centralized system, the decision making process is a top-to- bottom approach. Today, many countries have this system (UNCDF 2000; Totemeyer 2000:95).

Let’s consider three different forms of decentralization.

I. Political Decentralization: The process where the citizens or their elected officials will have power in public decision making. It encourages a pluralistic politics or representative democratic system of government. The citizens or their representatives will have the opportunity of formulating policies and ensuring those policies are implemented. For instance, the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance is advocating for the election of superintendent and other local county officials. When the local people elect their officials, they will be accountable to their people. The policy to improve the welfare of the local inhabitants will be established.

II. Administrative Decentralization: it is the transferring of planning, financing and management of certain public functions from the central to the local authority. The local officials should have some authority to administer or control local functionaries. Administrative decentralization has three forms, namely: Deconcentration, Delegation and Devolution.

A. Deconcentration: The form of decentralization in which the central authority redistributes authority through their autonomy agencies or functionaries of government. In essence, the responsibilities of central government officials will be shifted in regions, counties or districts. The administration is managed by the central government authority.

B. Delegation: it is the form of decentralization in which the central government authority transfer responsibilities for decision making and administration of public functions to semi-autonomous agencies that is not definitely controlled by central government, but eventually answerable to it.

C. Devolution: this is the form of decentralization in which the central government gives some political, administrative and fiscal powers to the local government. This is exactly what the National Policy on Decentralization and local governance is emphasizing. For example, the Political aspect of the policy emphasizes the election of superintendent and other local officials.

III. Fiscal decentralization: This is the process whereby some financial or monetary responsibilities are transferred from the central government to the local government structure. When political power is devolved, the local government authority will need to have some financial responsibility to raise taxes, or collect revenue to ensure that there is substantial development in the local structures.
Sustainable development: is the deliberate and systematic policy of ensuring the survival of a state in such conditions that the social, economic and political necessities that are important for the enjoyment of the good life and ensuring the greatest good for the greatest numbers are available now without this constituting a denial for the capacity of being able to enjoy the same benefits to generations yet unborn in the foreseeable future (Babawale, 2008). It also an entrenched socio-economic and political development that generation unborn can experience. This is the type of development that Afghanistan needs.

The Centralized Problem:

The old centralized governance is an onerous problem to sustainable development in Afghanistan. This centralized system has impeded the bottom –to- top developmental initiatives, subordinate participatory governance system, increased poverty and constrained local dwellers to focus on central government for everything. In fact, the role of sub national structures is not clearly defined, thus reinforcing the centralized structure of government.

Why decentralization for Afghanistan?

For too long our centralized system in Afghanistan has not provided a sustainable development, transparency, and good governance. The public administrative system of governance is archaic and it is not significantly impacting the development process of the country. The functionaries of central government are not performing the tasks of a prudent public delivery system. A decentralized system of government will improve the post conflict rebuilding process. Decentralized governance is being cherished as the most unique governance platform; it can ensure the intervention of poverty reduction, sustainable development and participatory governance. This proposition indicates that decentralization provides greater community participation in the evolution, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programs. Consequently, Afghanistan needs a decentralized governance system especially through devolution, to ensure sustainable development, people empowerment, and poverty reduction.

Threat of Decentralization:

Decentralization is often influenced by the tendency of any central authority to attempt to hang onto and concentrate powers (Manor, 1999). Decentralization becomes threat when the central authority does not want to transfer some powers to the local authorities. The basis for loosing control in the local authority is the best fear. Is this the scenario with Afghanistan? Ironically, the leadership in Afghanistan has realized the importance of transferring some authorities but the political will is difficult to be exerted. Where do they stand on the issue of transferring some powers? When the Government develops the spirit of “Political Will”, it will strengthen the objectives of participatory governance, local ownership and poverty reduction. When policy makers evolved a policy, there should a homogenous courage to ensure that the policy development process reaches its logical conclusion. Policy developer needs to find a comprehensive way to negotiate beyond the threat of decentralization.

Author’s Recommendation:

We need to establish a Governance Commission; this commission should work with Ministry of Internal Affairs; Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs and other institutions to develop a comprehensive decentralization policy. The Governance Commission ought to understand the relevance of sustainable development and post conflict reconstruction challenges in Afghanistan work sincerely with stakeholders: local leaders, political parties’ leaders, Media & Civil Society organizations, Youths, Women organizations, Technicians of Ministries and agencies of Government, University Lecturers and University Students to develop the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance. Afterwards, the policy should be forwarded to the National Legislature for enactment. This is the challenge to the Government.


Decentralization of power will be an institutional framework that will strengthen local participatory governance. It needs to be forwarded to the National Legislature for enactment and subsequent constitutional amendment. For our nascent democratic system to be more structured, transparent and participatory, Policy makers and implementers should avoid the threat of decentralization and consider it as one of the key pinnacle for sustainable development that generation unborn can experience. When the citizens are part of the decision making process of the country, they take ownership. This is the cardinal objective of decentralization. There are some countries in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world that have a decentralized government and they are doing exceptional well. Practical examples are: Ghana, Lithuania, India and Rwanda. Through the history of turbulent time as failed nation-state, political actors will have to be sincere to define the government in a way that there will be a wide participation of citizens into state affairs. This is so because the demand for governance reform that introduces decentralization is widespread throughout Afghanistan. The system of shared authority also strengthens the system of governance and enhances the legitimacy of government institutions (Sawyer, 2010). Decentralization is the best framework for Afghanistan governance and public administrative system”.

View online :

In the Same Section

Search in Kabul Press